Postmodern Truth 2.0 The Cheesy Skinny Response

Postmodernism. I do not think it means what people think it means. This is the topic of Brian McLaren’s response to Charles Colson’s latest attempt to dismiss the word “postmodern”.

His response is gentle and polite. One might have expected more reaction. There could have been the swishing of swords or, at the very least, a strong cautionary warning like, “I would not say such things if I were you”. Or, even harsher, “You killed my favourite word. Prepare to dialogue.”

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But the response was a congenial “As you wish”.
Or perhaps . . .
“We are men of action. Lying around arguing does not become us. If the term “postmodern’ no longer means what it used to, or perhaps never did, then go ahead and call it “mostly dead”.”

Personally, I can survive without the word. That’s why I am laughing. Because I know something you don’t know – some of us have been trying to lose the word “postmodern” for some time. The word ‘post-modern’ has a “jillion different meanings” says Brian McLaren. Or in other words, it probably doesn’t mean what you think it means.

For me, “postmodern” is an emotional, experiential word that signifies the way we have been dealing with our changing world; the world after modernity, the world where time and space and motion are experienced in a different way.
‘Post-modernity’, the era in which we live, is often described by the concept ‘post-modernism’. Sometimes that description is right. Sometimes it is right for another decade. Sometimes it misses the mark. Sometimes it never meant what we thought it meant.

Inconceivable? Get used to disappointment.

So. If we must choose another paradigm, then I challenge you to a battle of the worldviews.

Princess bride

In this blog you will find many worldviews, conceptual constructs if you like, that offer possibilities of understanding our changing world AND avoiding The Fireswamp of the Misunderstood Postmodernism.

Naturally, you are suspicious of me. I might be trying to trick you into giving something away to you that you do not want.

It’s possible. I am not a big fan of modernity, having seen its own ugly reductionist, idolatrous tendencies in my own life. Having come under its faith-stealing reliance on scientific method, its anti-supernatual bent, having been a Spiritual Abuser with my own OneBigStory that squashed all other stories that could not be defined and categorized by its biases. I am a recovering fundamentalist. I am still licking the wounds of those I hurt and examining the weapons I used. I am suspicious of myself. So you can clearly not choose the worldview in front of me.

And yet, I am a product of modern Christian discipleship, a student of many modern seminaries, a consultant for institutions to help other institutions, a missiologist leaning on reliable statistical data, obtained through modern methods of scientific inquiry. I am the son of many modern fathers, and your suspicion of the worldview in front of you is well-founded.

But suspicion is a post-modern trait, carrying shades of deconstructionist thinking, and as everybody knows, deconstructionism can be traced to Europe, where Saussurean structuralism, having influenced Russian Formalism in the 1920’s, was criticized harshly by the Prague School Linguistics long before WWII for being disinterested and not socially active. So I can clearly not choose the worldview in front of you.

But you might have known that I live in Prague, and Prague is full of ex-communists who once lived under one of the purest forms of institutional modernism ever known to man, and I have lived with my family in a panel-lock hi-rise apartment block which is a prime example of the HYPER-MODERN “International Style” architecture of social realism and so you can clearly not choose the worldview in front of me.

But you also know that I studied at American seminaries and would therefore be familiar with the positive input of structuralism on American missiology from Claude Levi-Strauss’s cultural anthropology. And I would have been exposed to post-modern narrative-based theology, listener-oriented evangelism, centered-set bias over bounded-set, learner-oriented teaching, and not to forget, a synchronic approach to hermeneutics, which was influenced by Ferdinand Saussure, the father of post-modern theory. So neither of us can choose the worldview in front of the Seminaries.

And I know that you have sung the famous hymns and would dare not trust [post-modern suspicion] the sweetest frame [decontructionism], but only lean on Jesus name because all other ground [post-foundational] apart from Christ the solid rock, is SINKING SAND, so you can clearly not choose the concept in front of anyone.

Truly we both have a dizzying, interlocking world in which we live, a confusing mixture of modern and postmodern.

So we are at a stalemate? Not even remotely,
I am more modern than you anticipated, and your thinking is more postmodern than you thought.

Maybe we should both list that among our assets?

Update: Charles Colson passed away April 21, 2012. I will miss our banter. Much respect to this great man. My thoughts on our conversations here.

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

15 Comments

  • Brilliant use of “The Princess Bride” to share your thoughts! I love it. I didn’t think anything could make me enjoy your blog more than I already do. Inconceivable!

  • andrew,
    once again you exceed my expectations. well, put… princess bride was the perfect vehicle for this. i’m still chuckling at the beauty of this post.

  • or would that be, a max miracle …?
    how ’bout we all just agree to get on with becoming more like the real man Jesus than like or unlike the straw man …

  • The emerging church

    "You killed my favourite word. Prepare to dialogue." On the cusp of you-may-as-well-admit-it-now-you’re-a-grown-up 30, I find myself with low-key identity crisis. My more academic secular friends would be unlikely to associate me with a postm…

  • Brilliant.
    I’m eager to read Colson’s piece, so I can judge for myself whether your response is fair. (Suspicion!) No disrespect intended to Colson (he is, in many ways, in my own spiritual lineage as well), but I think you may have been aiming over his head. Was that intentional?

  • Maybe Colson is a R.U.S.?
    Do we need to really go through this swamp? Why should you defend yourself against those who will never understand? Do we secretly need their validation like so many Dads giving us the “attaboy?” I think not. I’m sure with your superior intelect you already knew what I would say this and have a superior defense.
    you rock as usual
    Rob

  • Andrew, loved your response! I’ve been resisting writing up a response at this point because my thoughts were more along the lines of “You killed my favorite word…”
    I’ve been caught between the temptation to rant and wondering as Rob did above whether it was really a swamp worth going through or if people like Colson would never get the postmodern shift, or the idea that we don’t go “back” in history… we can only learn it’s lessons to avoid making the same kinds of mistakes…
    Anyway, I’ll quit lest your comment box become my next post. Thanks for the thoughts.

  • Andrew,
    I’ve been away for a week or so and have missed reading your blog. Your comments concerning the Charles Colson thing and to our brother James from Nigeria have been some of your best writing in some time. Keep it up! The Princess Bride take was excellent. It made me want to see it again! You always challenge my thinking.

  • The emerging church

    "You killed my favourite word. Prepare to dialogue." On the cusp of you-may-as-well-admit-it-now, you’re-a-grown-up 30, I find myself with a low-key identity crisis. My more academic secular friends would be unlikely to associate me with a po…

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